Literary connections in the MSPC

To date there have been a number of connections between the literary/journalistic world and the revolutionary period (1916-1923) within the MSPC. The work of writers such as Pearse, Connolly, MacDonagh, Childers, Breen, Barry and O’Malley, to name but a few are well known. This post will focus on some of the less obvious connections and will briefly outline the activities of the relatives of some of the most famous authors of 20th century Irish literature.

Hannah Keane nee Purtill (MD44630), 45 Church Street, Listowel, Kerry. Keane was awarded a Service (1917-1921) Medal without Bar as a member of Listowel Company, 6 Battalion, 1 Kerry Brigade, Cumann na mBan. She was also awarded a Special Allowance under the Army Pension Acts.  This allowance was paid until her death in 1989. Hannah was the mother of author John B Keane, actor Eamonn Patrick Keane and grandmother of journalist Fergal Keane. Hannah Keane’s medal file is available in the Military Archives.

Application form from Hannah Keane for Service (1917-1921) Medal

Patrick Tobin (MSP34REF21380), Bohreen Hill, Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Tobin was awarded a military service pension for service in 1916 and in the War of Independence. He fought extensively in Enniscorthy during Easter Week, 1916 and was later interned in Frongoch until December 1916.

Michael Tobin (MD2624), Bohreen Hill, Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Michael Tobin was posthumously awarded the 1916 Medal. Tobin also fought in Enniscorthy, County Wexford during the Easter Rising. He died in December 1918. Tobin’s medal file is also available in the Military Archives.

Patrick Tobin is the grandfather of novelist, playwright and journalist Colm Tóibín. Michael Tobin is the brother of Patrick and grand-uncle of Colm.

WMSP34REF21380 Patrick Tobin
Extract of reference for Patrick Tobin from John Whelan

Malachy McCourt (MSP34REF10758), Moneyglass, Toome, County Antrim. The file relates to unsuccessful application for a military service pension in respect of his claimed service with the IRA from 1 April 1919 and 11 July 1921. McCourt states that he was a member of the Sinn Féin Club from 1914 and that in 1918 he took part in electioneering, canvassing and collecting funds. McCourt claims that during the War of Independence he took part in burning of barracks and raids for arms.

Malachy was the father of authors Frank (Angela’s Ashes, Teacher Man), Malachy (A Monk Swimming) and Alphie McCourt (A Long Stone’s Throw).

MSP34REF10758 Malachy McCourt pg 22
Extract from McCourt’s application for a service pension

Robert Brennan (MSP34REF18488) and Una Brennan (MSP34REF60757) United States of America and later Dublin, Ireland. Una Brennan was a member of Cumann na mBan. She was awarded a military pension for service in 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War. During the 1916 Rising she fought in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. During the Civil War it is claimed that Una transported arms and ammunition as well as providing a safe house for those on the run.

Robert Brennan was awarded a military service pension in respect of his service with the Irish Volunteers and IRA for service between 1 April 1916 and 30 September 1923. Brennan fought in the Easter Rising in Enniscorthy, County Wexford and during the War of Independence he served in IRA General Headquarters under Michael Collins. Brennan opted to fight with the anti-Treaty IRA in Dublin at the outbreak of the Civil War and worked in the Publicity Department of the IRA throughout the Civil War. In 1934 he was a founder of the Irish Press newspaper. Later he was appointed in a diplomatic role to the United States and moved to Washington. Brennan was himself recognised as an author and playwright.

The Brennan’s daughter Maeve opted to stay in the United States when her parents returned. She became a journalist and short story writer for The New Yorker. Author and screenwriter Roddy Doyle was a first cousin of Maeve Brennan. Doyle is of course famous for numerous works including The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van.

Reference from Anna Kelly for Una Brennan

John Furlong (DP1012), 32 Charles Street, Dublin. Furlong was another 1916 veteran. He fought in Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, Bishop Street, Dublin during Easter Week. Furlong died in 1918 and the application under the Army Pensions Act was made by his widow Kathleen. Kathleen remarried Stephen F Behan in 1922. This deemed her ineligible under the Army Pensions Act legislation.  According to material on file Kathleen Behan (Furlong) was the mother of the writers Brendan, Dominic and Brian Behan by her second marriage.

Handwritten details of Kathleen Behan’s marriage

Francis McGahern (MD4282), Garda Síochána, Cootehall, County Roscommon. McGahern successfully applied for a Service (1917-1921) Medal without Bar. The medal issued 28 January 1952. McGahern states that he was a member of D Company, 6 Battalion, Longford Brigade between 1918 and 1922. States that he later joined an Garda Síochána where he served in Cootehall, County Roscommon. As with other medal files McGahern’s is also available in the Military Archives.

Francis McGahern is the father of John McGahern, author of The Barracks and Amongst Women among other works.

Application form from Francis McGahern for Service (1917-1921) Medal

Peadar O’Donnell (MSP34REF60300), 176 Upper Drumcondra Road, Dublin. O’Donnell was born in Donegal in 1893. Claims that he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914. He further claims that in September 1920 he began organising his own Active Service Unit (Flying Column) and that they were involved in attacks at Dungloe, Falcarragh Barracks, County Donegal, Crolly, Lecky Road Barracks, County Derry. O’Donnell says that he was in the Four Courts at the outbreak of the Civil War and that following the surrender he was arrested and interned during the periods (1 July 1922 – 30 September 1923). Amongst other roles he was an author and wrote a number of novels including The Islanders and The Big Windows.

34B64 Peadar O'Donnell
Obituary newspaper cutting for Peadar O’Donnell

Seán MacEntee (MSP34REF16538) and Margaret MacEntee nee Browne (MSP34REF60579) Dublin. Seán MacEntee was in receipt of a military service pension in respect of his service with the Irish Volunteers and IRA from the 1916 Easter Rising, War of Independence and Civil War. He was awarded 14 years’ service for pension purposes at grade A. This entitled him to the sum of £350 per annum. MacEntee would later serve as a T.D. and in various ministries for Fianna Fáil governments.

Margaret MacEntee’s received a service pension in respect of her service with Cumann na mBan for between 1 April 1918 and 30 June 1922. She claimed activity as a despatch carrier for Seán Mac Dermott prior to Easter Week 1916 for which she did not receive recognition for pension purposes, and to serving under Joseph Mac Donagh in the Belfast Boycott Department between 1921 until early 1922.
Seán and Margaret were the parents of Irish language poet, writer and academic Máire Mhac an tSaoi.

Finally to mention the O’Carroll’s, all of whom are related to writer, comedian and actor Brendan O’Carroll. Firstly his Aunt Mary Lawlor nee Carroll (MSP34REF20884) and his uncles Liam O’Carroll (MD118), Peter James O’Carroll (MSP34REF6341) and James O’Carroll (MSP34REF18797). All of whom received recognition for their service during Easter Week.